Obama said sanctions would be lifted during talks with Aung San Suu Kyi at the Oval Office [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
Obama said sanctions would be lifted during talks with Aung San Suu Kyi at the Oval Office [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

President Barack Obama announced that US economic sanctions against Myanmar will be lifted, and trade preferences reinstated to provide duty-free treatment for goods from the Asian nation.

Yesterday’s (09/14/2016) meeting in Washington was the first by Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar’s leader since her pro-democracy party won a stunning victory over the country’s military rulers in elections last year.

“The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time,” Obama said, speaking in the Oval Office with Aung San Suu Kyi at his side.

Earlier, Obama notified the US Congress that he was reinstating preferential tariffs, known as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), for Myanmar, which provides duty-free access for goods from poor and developing countries.

Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, was removed from GSP benefits in 1989 after the country’s ruling military junta brutally crushed pro-democracy protests.

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President Obama said the lifting of some sanctions would happen “soon”, but did not give further details.

“It is the right thing to do to ensure the people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business, and a new government,” he said.

He also paid tribute to the efforts made towards peace in the country, and the “enormous potential” of the country.

Ms Suu Kyi called on the US Congress to eliminate all remaining sanctions against Myanmar.

“Unity also needs prosperity,” she said. “People, when they have to fight over limited resources, forget that standing together is important.”

“We think that the time has come to remove all of the sanctions that hurt us economically,” she said.

Removal of long-standing sanctions against Myanmar will help foreign investment and boost the country’s transition to democracy, the White House said prior to the meeting of the two leaders.

The US eased some sanctions earlier this year to support political reform, but maintained most of its economic restrictions with an eye towards penalising those it views as hampering Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government.

Myanmar’s military stepped back from direct control of the country in 2011 after 49 years in power, but maintains a commanding role in politics, controlling 25 percent of seats in parliament and leading three key ministries.

Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the post of Myanmar’s president under the country’s military-drafted constitution, which rules her out because her sons are not Myanmar citizens. Instead, she serves as the country’s de facto leader by holding the positions of foreign minister and state counsellor.

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